Photography by Jessica Castro
It started with an ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses Facebook group. That’s where Matt Cullen found his first ever interviewee, Rob, and started on a journey that would be a turning point in his career. Our Queer Life follows LGBTQ+ folks who live life off the beaten path. The series has amassed nearly 100 thousand views on YouTube in less than six months and has explored everything from HIV to off-grid queer camps.
“This series started as a side gig, but it's transformed into something I think about while I eat, breathe and sleep,” Matt said. “It’s my biggest passion. I love it and it’s opened my eyes so much. I feel like I’m actually making a change, and nothing is better than that.”
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Our Queer Life is Matt’s baby. But it isn’t where he started. He left home for the first time to attend college at Pace University in New York, New York where he studied musical theater and met his best friend and future writing partner, Troy LaPersonerie. The duo thrived off the city’s energy and liveliness of the culture. But after a little over 5 years, Matt decided it was time to head back to his home state, California, and break into the L.A. scene.
In L.A, Matt wasted no time. He got to work and started writing, filming and auditioning. His web series, That’s the Gag, starred Keke Palmer (Yes, Keke Palmer of True Jackson, VP fame). The mockumentary-style show brought Matt closer to his passion, creating docu-series. After a season of the comedy web series, Matt had a successful audition and got a small role in Modern Family. Matt pointed to both of these events as turning points that got him further in the industry and opened doors he’d never even thought were going to budge.
“I am proud of myself,” Matt said. “It’s easy to forget the impressive things I’ve done because, you know, I’m in the trenches. I don’t always have time to step back and think about how far I’ve come or think about my successes. I’m just thinking about what’s next.”
Now, Our Queer Life keeps him busier than ever. Matt said his greatest wish was to find something he’s passionate about and spend all day creating content for it. This series is what he’s wanted his whole life. Now he tells the stories of his community and is a force for good.
He wakes up around 6 a.m. and crowdsources potential story ideas. He makes calls and emails new interview subjects to set up meetings, or past interviewees to catch up. At 10 a.m. it’s time for Matt to head to his day job. He hustles as a server during the day to make ends meet. Thankfully, Matt said, it’s a clock-in, clock-out job – perfect for a creative like himself. When the traditional workday ends, it’s back to editing the most recent episode of Our Queer Life or scouring the internet to find new auditions.
“It is all-consuming,” Matt said. “I’m always trying to find new stories and going down rabbit holes to find my next subject. It’s an all-day-every-day project.”
Since its start, Our Queer Life has kept it real and interesting. From Zee, a houseless non-binary person that’s been living on the streets for the last 5 years to Mousie, a trans woman who’s been in and out of prison since 1996 for grand theft auto, prostitution, assault with a weapon, and pistol-whipping, Our Queer Life doesn’t shy away from raw, dark reality. Matt pays for his equipment and makes sure everyone in his series is compensated in some way. Mousie gets cigarettes. Zee gets cash. What they need and what they want, Matt said, he gives them.
Photography by Jessica Castro
Right now, Our Queer Life isn’t a money-maker but according to Matt, it’s a game-changer. He wants the web series to become a sustainable full-time job. It’s his dream to travel the country, even the world, to see how queer people make their mark in different places.
“You never know who’s watching,” Matt said. “You might not get 5 million views, you might just get five. But one of those five people could be someone that changes your life. That’s why I love putting myself out there. You never know what could happen, it’s inspiring.”
The short-term goal for the show is to publish a new episode every week. It sounds like a small feat, but the days go fast and suddenly it’s Sunday and Matt’s scrambling. He estimates he puts 20+ hours into each episode. It’s a grind. After over 20 hours of interviewing and editing, getting less than a thousand views can be discouraging. But Matt has faith people will find his content and enjoys just living in the moment.
“From Keke to Zee, and everyone in between, they all have helped enrich my life,” Matt said.